A few weeks ago, one of our dog park buddies made the casual comment, “Our Best Friend really needs to live on a farm, where he can run outside all day.” I’ve been haunted by that remark ever since.
When we first got a dog, I thought it would force me to get more exercise. Who was I kidding. I’ve never been a morning person, so walking him before the kids get up for school doesn’t happen. I’m too tired at night. During the day, I’m too busy. And to top it off, the weather won’t cooperate either.
We just ended a brutal week of heat, with humidexes up to 104 F (40 C). In spite of my anti-a.m. nature, I got up at 6:30 one morning, 7:00 another, and took Our Best Friend to the park to get his shpilkes out before the heat made it too difficult (and dangerous). But half an hour twice a week isn’t enough exercise for a dog his size.
It also rained like hell this summer, which ate into our dog park time. Several times, we were all prepped to go, and just as we were getting the leash and the poop bags, it went pitch black outside and the heavens opened. It puts a damper on outdoor activities. One evening I ignored the ominous warnings; we were there for less than ten minutes before we ran back to the car with thunder ringing in our ears.
I’ve actually seen dedicated dog owners walking in rain, snow, heat, cold. They get up early, wait until dark, buy big umbrellas and thick parkas. It fills me with guilt. I have three kids and an aversion to exertion. I am naturally predisposed to sit in front of computers and TVs. I hate housework. I do like walking, but I never seem to have time for it. (See above, not a morning person, tired at night, etc.)
The kids are too young to walk the dog alone; he’s pulled the leash out of my hand on more than one occasion, and he’s not the most obedient. He once ran across the street to give another dog a sniff. Thankfully, he made it across without any cars coming by. I would hate to have my kids witness their dog become dog mash on the road, and worse, feel responsible because they couldn’t hold his leash. Instead I try to get them to play with him in the back yard, throwing balls and running around, but they never stay out more than fifteen or twenty minutes. And the Spouse doesn’t walk the dog. He just doesn’t.
So it falls to me. Sometimes I take him after the kids leave for school. Sometimes I take him after lunch. Sometimes we don’t go at all. See above: not a morning person, too tired at night, etc.
After a few days without exercise, Our Best Friend gets antsy. He jumps at the door. He rests his chin on our bed and looks at us with pleading eyes. He drops his ball at our feet and backs up, tail wagging. He cocks his head to one side, raising his eyebrow, looking from us to the front door. He induces guilt.
I know, in my heart, that our dog park buddy is right. Our Best Friend needs space to roam. We can’t let him loose in the back yard because it’s not fenced in, and fencing our yard would be prohibitively expensive. We’ve tried tying him up, but he cries and barks when left alone out there. But two one-hour walks daily aren’t going to happen either.
But neither is the farm. While I would be prepared to give Our Best Friend to a better owner, assuming I could find one, our children won’t let him go for anything. They are attached. And truthfully– so is Our Best friend. He is a shepherd mix, with the loyalty that comes with the breed. When we leave him with a sitter, someone he knows well and likes, he often doesn’t eat for a day or two. When we walk as a family, he needs to keep the pack together or he gets highly anxious. The kids can’t run ahead or he barks like mad. We are his people, and he is our dog, and we’re stuck with each other. And I’m stuck with the guilt of not being a “good enough” owner for our high-maintenance pooch.